Monday, October 9, 2017

The Lost Franklin House Hotel - Broadway and Dey Street

The above illustration was drawn by architect Alexander Jackson Davis and published in Pendelton's Lithography in 1830.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By 1830 New York City was attracting tourists and businessmen from Europe.  Within the next two decades handsome hotels befitting the upscale class of visitors would be constructed.  Among the first was the Franklin House, at the northwest corner of Broadway and Dey Street.  The hotel was initially operated by Newton Hayes, a well-known hotelier born in Simsbury, Connecticut in 1779.

An illustration drawn by esteemed architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1830 suggests that he designed the Georgian-style structure.  The rusticated base contained three entrances--the northernmost opening on the hotel's lobby, and the others to shops.  Three arched widows mimicked the proportion and shape of the doorways.   The third and fourth floors or the brick facade were embellished with elegant two-story stone pilasters.  Classical stone urns perched on either end of the stone cornice.

Hotel guests in the early 19th century were expected to comply with society's rigid rules of deportment.  Looking back nearly half a century later the The New York Times called the process of dining at the Franklin House a "pretentious affair."   At an appointed time ("the hour was observed with the strictest punctuality") the doors to the dining room were thrown open and a great gong was clanged throughout the hotel.  Guests were given five or ten minutes to take their places before the head waiter entered and struck a bell.

"Immediately the door leading to the kitchen was opened...and the waiters, reinforced by the hall-boy, boot-black, porter, and man of all work, who had spruced himself up for the occasion, filed into the room bearing tureens of soup and dishes of fish."  When the head waiter struck the bell again, the platters and tureens were placed on the tables.  A third bell sent the staff marching back to the kitchen.

"When the bell rang again, they reappeared, carrying chafing-dishes filled with meats and vegetables, and the same ceremony was gone through with.  In some cases the joints were placed upon side tables, and the carver or carvers quickly setting to work, helped the boarders to what they called for."

A bust of Benjamin Franklin is prominently displayed above the second floor.  Handsome Georgian and Federal-style homes fill the block between the hotel and St. Paul's Chapel.    original source unknown

For years the shop nearest the corner was home to William Milnor's drugstore.  The pharmacy sold a dizzying array of cures, including Rowand's Vermifuge which had the "special property of destroying and expelling worms."   Intestinal parasites were a common affliction in 1839 and Milnor's advertisement scoffed, "It has been remarked that worms are entirely harmless," and went on to list dire warnings:

Among the numerous symptoms indicating the presence of Worms, are loss of sleep, picking of the nose, bad appetite, pain in the bowels, diarrhea, voracious appetite, fetid breath, tumid lips, livid circle round the eyes, disturbed sleep, grinding of the teeth, headache, &c. &c.

That same year Milnor advertised "Gibney's celebrated Destroyer" to treat "salt rheum, tetter, ringworms, Jackson or Barber's Itch, Pimples on the face, and all other diseases of the skin."  Rowland's Colyreum or Eye Water was a "most excellent application for weak and inflamed eyes;" and ladies were encouraged to try The Oriental Powder of Alabaster to "beautify the skin, remove freckles, &c."

Intestinal worms were not the worst affliction suffered by Milnor's customers in 1839.  He offered Carpenter's Compound Fluid Extract of Buchu as a "most valuable" treatment not only for dysentery and bladder problems, but "chronic gonorrhea."

In 1834 Gideon Miner Davidson, in his The Fashionable Tour, said the Franklin House, "kept by Mr. Newton Hayes, is pleasantly located, furnished in good style, and enjoys a handsome patronage."

But the same year that the Franklin House opened John Jacob Astor laid plans to outshine the hotel.  He lived just one block north on Broadway where he began buying his neighbors' mansions.  His intention was to erect a massive hotel that would engulf the entire blockfront.  The 300-room Astor House opened in 1836 and immediately overshadowed the Franklin House.

A guide book made a veiled reference to the glitzy competition when it now described the Franklin House as "not so extensive as some of the other establishments."  It was an early foreshadowing of the hotel's fate.

At some point Newton Hayes went into partnership with John P. Treadwell, forming Hayes & Treadwell.  Like all hotel proprietors, they had to deal with swindlers and shysters.

In June 1846 two young men, R. Hammond and J. Stone, reportedly from Baltimore, checked in.   When Treadwell presented them with their bill a few days later, they explained that they were waiting for funds to arrive from Baltimore.  Treadwell was understanding, but took possession of their trunks as collateral.

At 3:00 on the morning of June 18 a policeman noticed a man standing in the shadows of Dey Street.  A bundle suddenly dropped from an upper window of the hotel.  Their attempt to sneak out in the night was foiled and Hammond and Stone were arrested and charged with fraud.

A block to the north, just past St. Paul's Chapel, is the Astor House, the greatest competition of the Franklin House.  original source unknown

The "handsome patronage" of the Franklin House were exposed to a rare exhibition of fisticuffs on September 4, 1848.  John M. Crowell seems to have been a guest here when he learned that James H. Hutchings, who lived at No. 71 Liberty Street, was spreading rumors that he had been seen with a married woman whose husband was out of town.

Crowell would later explain to a judge that Hutchings "had been using his name in a very free manner, which reflected very ungentlemanly on the character of a certain pretty lady."  Crowell said he went to Hutchings's home and asked "politely" for an apology or retraction.  Hutchings replied that he neither knew Crowell nor wanted to and provided no satisfaction.

It came to a head when Crowell spotted Hutchings in the Franklin House.  The New York Herald provided a colorful description of what happened next.

A clinch ensued, and down they went.  Mr. Hutchings being the lucky bird, succeeded in keeping on top of Crowell, who was, from his position, receiving the hardest blows, when Hutchings began to gouge the eyes of his adversary; and Crowell, to save his eye, seized Hutchings's finger in his mouth, taking nearly the end off, and then he held on like a bull dog, until separated by the friends of both parties."

The judge held both men in $300 bail (around $9,400 today).  The New York Herald summed it up saying "and thus ended this affair of honor."

Edward Phalon ran his wig and hair dye store in one of the shops by, at least, 1850.  That year he offered 125 hard-to-get tickets for Jenny Lind's concert at Castle Garden on September 11.  He advertised them as "all very eligibly located, not one of them being under the gallery, and all of them commanding a full view of the stage."  He coyly omitted the price from his ad.

His advertisements soon returned to his principle products and in June 1851 he touted "Phalon's Magic Hair Dye, to color the hair or whiskers the moment it is applied."  Another ad for "Wigs and Toupees" said "We would call the attention of persons requiring Wigs, to a recent improvement. The same was awarded a silver medal for the first premium at the last fair."

The following year he changed the name of the shop, which now offered hair styling, to Phalon's Crystal Palace.  Saying he was introducing "a new era in Hair Cutting" that "eclipses anything before dreamed of in New York," he employed 15 "of the best artists in America."  Phalon added to the allure of his shop by mentioning "clean hair brushes for all."

John P. Treadwell abandoned the Franklin House when he left to run the majestic white marble St. Nicholas Hotel in 1853.   It was not merely an example of the lavish modern hotels, but it reflected the northward movement of the fashionable hotel district.

In 1865 Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York described the Franklin House in the past tense, saying "under the supervision of J. P. Treadwell, [it] was one of the leading resorts of country merchants."  The following year Miller's Stranger's Guide to New York did not even include the Franklin House on its list of principal hotels.

Once part of Manhattan's most elegant residential neighborhood, the Broadway and Dey Street corner was fully commercialized following the end of the Civil War.  In 1873 the Franklin House was demolished to make way for the new Western Union Telegraph Building.  Following completion of the 12-story structure, The New York Herald commented on August 10, 1874 "Who will build a house higher than the Western Union Telegraph Building, and who will modify the human neck so that that house can be comfortably looked at?"

That writer would have been even more astounded by the 29-story Western Union Building which replaced that structure in 1916.   Enlarged in 1923, it survives.

photo by Jim Henderson

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